Cases of ‘winter vomiting bug’ climbing across B.C.

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Pandemic-spurred health measures including physical distancing, increased sanitation protocols, and remote working helped to curb the spread of coronavirus — but they also helped keep a host of other easily transmittable viruses at bay.

While cases of COVID-19 steadily climbed across North America over the winter of 2020/2021, cases of influenza sharply declined, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Since people have returned back to offices, schools, gyms, and other public places, the “flu,” the common cold, and several other contagious viruses have made a striking comeback. 

Preliminary data from the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests (PHAC) suggests that norovirus has returned to pre-pandemic levels across most of the country, according to Dr. Rohit Vijh, a public health and preventive medicine resident at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The primary source of the virus is “stool and vomit from infected people,” which is then passed along through “what is called the fecal-oral route,” according to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). It can be spread by unwashed hands or by food, water, or ice that has been handled by a sick person.

While most people do not visit the hospital when they have the virus, norovirus symptoms aren’t exactly comfortable.

What are the symptoms of norovirus?

Often referred to as the “winter vomiting bug,” people who are infected with the virus typically spend a few days experiencing a range of unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever, and cramping. 

Although cases of norovirus usually clear up in a few days without issue, there may be some complications. For instance, people may get extremely dehydrated from losing so much fluid, Vijh told V.IA.

“There are these specific high-risk groups where dehydration can be a serious complication,” he said. “We then recommend keeping a close eye on [them] and making sure that these individuals…seek medical attention if their symptoms are not resolving after two or three days.”

People can prevent the spread of the norovirus by using some of the same health and safety protocol that were emphasized during the pandemic, including “hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting shared services, and keeping family members or yourself out of school or work if you’re experiencing symptoms,” added Vijh.

Anyone with symptoms of norovirus should avoid going back to work for at least 48 hours or until their symptoms resolved. They should also ensure they stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

About four million people in Canada get sick from the food they eat and “norovirus causes over a million cases of non-travel-related foodborne illness each year,” according to the PHAC. 

Outbreaks of the virus are notified nationally via the ce systems to monitor outbreaks of norovirus. These include Canadian Notifiable Disease Surveillance System and the National Enteric Surveillance Program (NESP).

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